Sunday 27 May 2018

Home comfort sees Aussies squeeze life out of England

Australia’s batsman Pat Cummins avoids a bouncer during the second Ashes Test match in Adelaide. Photo: Getty Images
Australia’s batsman Pat Cummins avoids a bouncer during the second Ashes Test match in Adelaide. Photo: Getty Images

Jonathan Liew

Perhaps it was the bit when Nathan Lyon hit Craig Overton disdainfully for six.

Perhaps it was the moment Alastair Cook and James Vince bumped into each other going for a catch. Perhaps it was when Shaun Marsh danced down the pitch and put Stuart Broad into the members' enclosure. It was hard to pinpoint the exact moment.

But sometime during the afternoon session, this series simply stopped being fun for England. A monumental task lies ahead of them if it is ever to be fun again.

You may hear about this being the day when the "wheels fell off". But it wasn't quite as dramatic as all that.

There was no Mitchell Johnson blitzkrieg this time, no cataclysmic implosion, no mid-series retirement in the offing.

They were picked apart rather than ripped apart, the wheels not so much falling off as being punctured one at a time.

England, so bullish and effervescent in advance of this game, were ground to a halt by the smart cricket they aspire to play themselves.

With the bat, Australia sprang from their overnight platform to amass a total that would have been imposing enough during the daytime.

Marsh (126 not out) and Tim Paine (57) saw off the second new ball. Then as English limbs and minds began to tire, Marsh and Cummins (44) very nearly took them into a third.

With the ball, Mitchell Starc took the early wicket of Mark Stoneman before rain washed out what could have turned into a nightmarish night session.

And so Australia have done to England exactly what England said they were going to do to Australia: frustrate, suffocate, exhaust.

This has been the slowest Ashes series since the 1990s, and during it Australia have played with a rare and valuable patience: judging conditions, pacing their efforts, using their local knowledge and competitive instincts.

Sharply-honed

You can have all the finely-tuned plans and sharply-honed strategies you want, but sometimes learning is no substitute for simply knowing.

Even in England's truncated nine-over session with the bat, you could see the difference.

Mitchell Starc slung it down at 93mph, full and attacking the stumps. Josh Hazlewood popped it on a perfect length, full and attacking the stumps from a different angle. Cummins got only one ball, but his length is naturally a little shorter.

There is colour and texture to this attack, whereas England's four-man pace attack simply offered varying shades of grey.

English-style conditions, too, offered little solace. The pink ball was just an over old at the start of the play, with plenty of zip in the pitch, a fair breeze and good carry.

Broad, fresh and vivacious, got Peter Handscomb lbw with his third delivery of the morning, roaring in Handscomb's face as he wheeled past in celebration. But it was the only time England bared their teeth all day.

Already, this looks like becoming the eighth Ashes series out of nine to be won by the home team.

Should England continue to slide in this game, the tendency will be towards condemnation: towards Root for bowling first, towards the bowlers for pitching it too short, towards the ECB, because why not?

But such is the advantage of home conditions that England could conceivably lose this series 5-0 and still begin the 2019 Ashes as narrow favourites.

And so, perhaps the definition of success for England here simply needs to be recalibrated. A win. A century. Keeping the series alive beyond Christmas. Or maybe it is something as simple as giving a genuine account of themselves, providing an alternative narrative to a series that so far has offered but one. (© Independent News Service)

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